By Ken Stone
A super yacht vanishes at Comic-Con. A marijuana mogul sues after losing the party boat. The charter company owners countersue, alleging slander and emotional distress.
This week, the Vista Superior Court case was dismissed at the request of both sides — BudTrader CEO Brad McLaughlin and Lake and Gemma Rickolt, doing business as San Diego Marine Services and Sol Luna Expeditions.
McLaughlin has said he lost nearly $100,000 when the Rickolts took the yacht back from Fifth Avenue Landing next to the San Diego Convention Center before he could host celebrities and potential investors on Saturday night of the July 2017 Comic-Con.The Rickolts said in an April 2018 countersuit that McLaughlin had lied about being a Comic-Con vendor and broke rules for use of the 120-foot yacht Liquidity. The charter owners said they suffered bad press.
McLaughlin — whose “Craigslist of weed” is based in Encinitas — said in a statement via email that a settlement was reached March 15.
“We’re very [happy] with the outcome,” he said. “BudTrader will be returning to San Diego Comic-Con for our fourth consecutive year with an off-site activation and after party.”
But Charles “Chuck” Gossage of Solana Beach, attorney for the Rickolts, disputed the characterization of the outcome.
“The case was dismissed for nothing. So that ought to tell you something,” Gossage said in a phone interview. “[McLaughlin] said it settled very favorably for him? It wasn’t, but that’s OK.”
Both sides signed a confidentiality agreement on settlement details — although they disagreed on its size, with McLaughlin calling it “lengthy” and Gossage portraying it as “less than one paragraph.”
The breach of contract/warranty case was barreling toward a May 17 jury trial in front of Judge Jacqueline Stern but was formally canceled Tuesday — 473 days after being filed in January 2018.
The Rickolts filed their countersuit in April 2018. They sought unspecified economic, noneconomic, special and punitive damages along with attorney fees and others costs.Touted as the “Greatest PR Stunt of the Century,” the BudTrader boat parties adjacent to Comic-Con promised to attract “Hip Hop Stars, former NFL and NBA athletes… major cannabis investors and cannabis friendly celebrities.”
Comic-Con celebs could “rub elbows with A-List VIPs and ‘the world famous BudTrader Babes.’” McLaughlin paid $44,250 for three days’ use of the yacht.
But days after the boat was taken back, McLaughlin sent email saying: “BudTrader.com has engaged a TOP Beverly Hills law firm to punish all our enemies, known and unknown. We will not rest until we have recovered all damages associated with our early and illegal ejection from Fifth Avenue Landing and Comic-Con. We will not be stopped; we are one.”
In her suit, however, Gemma Rickolt said she was verbally abused after boarding the yacht about 4:38 p.m. July 20, 2017, and observed McLaughlin “intoxicated as he seemed overly sweaty; he struggled to make eye contact and seemed on edge.”
They objected to a beer keg’s presence as well — when only canned beer was permissible and other drinks would have to be in plastic glasses, the suit said.
“Moreover, [the Rickolts] and the yacht crew felt threatened for their safety and the safety of the yacht,” the suit said, alleging that McLaughlin “intentionally and wrongfully made slanderous and disparaging comments to various individuals, media outlets, reporters, editors, and/or trade magazines … as an intentional publicity stunt … with the purpose of specifically causing damage” to the Rickolts.
In May 2018, McLaughlin denied lying about being a Comic-Con vendor.
“If I had a booth,” he said, “I would have just manned our booth and I wouldn’t have rented a super yacht.”
He also denied being intoxicated.
“I did not drink during our event, and not that it matters but I have not had a sip of alcohol in 10 years,” he said. “I prefer cannabis.”
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